May 20, 2013 - Thinking solo?

As the lakes finally give up their last shards of ice up north and as my performance schedule becomes very busy (see the “calendar” tab on this site), I got my analog calendar out. I put the performance schedules on the appropriate dates in red and then took my blue Sharpie and asked myself where, when and how do I want to paddle? I had to remember to schedule band rehearsals in the appropriate places as well as travel days to the festivals we are happily playing in.

And while I’ve scheduled some paddling trips with friends old and new, I noted some open spots where I can get a short solo trip or two in.

That brought back memories of my first solo trip in Quetico Provincial Park in Northwest Ontario. Although I had done lots of planning, I still look back on that excursion as a life long lesson not only in solo paddling but in life’s everyday travels as well.

I, of course, overloaded myself with gear and provisions such that I could have probably stayed in for weeks. And my 70 lb Mad River Explorer was enough of a shoulder weight as it is. I also remember no one told me to turn the boat around and sit “backwards” in the bow seat to center myself. So there I was, putting in on one sky blue September day at Dawson’s trail ready to go in all the wrong ways.

All was well until I entered Pickerel Lake, a monstrous, beautiful, super large, clear, behemoth of a lake. I should probably also mention it is really, really big. That day was a headwind that would challenge even the most experienced paddler. My goal was to cross Pickerel that day and find my first solo campsite. About a third of the way across, I remember saying out loud to myself, “I think I’m taking on too much here.” My first realization of how serious solo paddling is and how careful one must be.

I was bouncing around in the lee of a small island looking at my map and my desired destination seemed worlds away. Then I realized that just to my left was a small island. That became my goal – get there, rest in the lee out of the wind and then figure what’s next. Upon reaching that island, I spotted another. There’s my new goal. Then another, and another. I set my goal to only getting to the next protective island lee and then the next. Shifting my focus off of getting across Pickerel, I did just that. Yes, it was difficult. Yes, it took a long time. But yes, I made it.

Driving up to International Falls, MN for that first trip, I remember my friend Tim calling to see how I was. He said, “I hope you find what you’re looking for out there”. I remember telling him I wasn’t looking for anything except a good paddling experience.

But the wilderness has ways of teaching us lessons we don’t even know that we need. That day I learned the importance of having a lofty goal and while not losing sight of it, I needed to reset my goals to smaller “do-able” ones.

Looking back, I realize I have accomplished a great deal using that philosophy, often times without even knowing it. I didn’t get across Pickerel without those islands. I didn’t get songs on over 15 million records without writing one song, then another, then another trying to make each one better than the last. I didn’t fall into a north woods festival schedule by jumping in the deep end. I realize this summer has been years in the making with baby steps setting up bigger ones. Small goals to bigger goals.

So what’s next? That’s hard to say. I haven’t set a goal of playing my paddle songs in Carnegie Hall, but who knows?

I do know that I’m ready to take on Pickerel again.

One island at a time.

my wonderful 70 lb royalex Mad River Explorer